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With: Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman, Leo G. Carroll, Patricia Hitchcock
Written by: Raymond Chandler, Czenzi Ormonde, based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 103
Date: 06/29/1951

Strangers on a Train (1951)

4 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Patricia Highsmith's malicious writing seems perfectly suited to Alfred Hitchcock; it's too bad he didn't make a few Ripley movies while he was at it. In Strangers on a Train, one of Hitch's biggest hits and most enduringly popular films, a pair of strangers meet on a train. Guy (Farley Granger) is a fairly well-known tennis player, while Bruno (Robert Walker) is a near-psychopathic weirdo. He already knows about Guy's trouble with his estranged wife, but not the extent of it (she's pregnant by another man and plans to blackmail Guy into staying with her so that she can live off his riches). At the same time, Bruno doesn't get along with his father. Very simply, he wishes to switch murders so that nothing will tie one murder to the other.

In a spectacular sequence set at a carnival, Bruno does his job and tries to get Guy to go through with his end of the "deal." Bruno starts showing up in various places, in the distance at the top of a flight of stairs, or at one of Guy's tennis matches -- staring straight ahead while other viewers crane their heads from side to side.

Nearly every scene in Strangers on a Train plays with the same ferocious velocity; it never slows down. Better, Hitchcock ramps everything up for the ripping climax. Guy must finish a tennis match as quickly as possible to prevent Bruno from doing further damage. Hitchcock uses the sports announcers to build suspense during the match. But that's nothing compared to the intense fight on board a runaway carousel. (I love the little old man who crawls underneath the spinning juggernaut, pausing to wipe his brow.)

Granger and Walker couldn't be more perfect for these roles. In other films, Hitchcock worked brilliantly within celebrity personas like Cary Grant's and Jimmy Stewart's. But this time he cast specific actors to fit the bill. Granger is handsome and athletic but lacks a certain masculinity; he's easily put-upon. And Walker beautifully embodies the sinister wacko who truly believes he's doing something great.

It helps that no less a writer than Raymond Chandler helped write the screenplay, along with Czenzi Ormonde. It crackles and sparks and never lets up. But some credit should go to Highsmith, whose sadistic imagination conjured it all up.

Warner Home Video's magnificent double-disc set replaces its previous two-sided version. Disc one contains Hitchcock's final 101-minute cut, complete with a commentary track (Peter Bogdanovich, Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano, Patricia Highsmith biographer Andrew Wilson, and many other colleagues, aficionados and family members) and a trailer. The film is available in either the original English or dubbed in French. Optional subtitles include English, French and Spanish. Disc two includes the 103-minute pre-release cut, which shows more footage of Bruno and underlines his homosexual attraction to Guy a little more clearly, plus it eliminates the final jokey, coda of Guy and his fiancée, Ann, on the train. Disc two also comes with several featurettes and documentaries, including interviews with Farley Granger.

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